Intel targets exascale computing with new technologies

Summary:Intel's CTO has demonstrated technologies for future exascale computing, including applications built on the upcoming Knights Ferry many-core processor, and technology for lowering the power consumed by chips

...Intel is to build exascale computers, he said. If implemented, it will grow the amount of storage available for in-memory computation — an important feature for supercomputers that typically deal with massive datasets that need to be rapidly fed through to thousands of processors.

The cube comes out of a collaboration between Intel and its long-term flash and RAM development partner Micron, Rattner said.

"One of the biggest impediments to scaling the performance of servers and datacentres is the available bandwidth to memory and the associated cost," Bryan Casper, a design engineer for Intel, wrote in a blog on Thursday. "As the number of individual processing units ("cores") on a microprocessor increases, the need to feed the cores with more memory data expands proportionally."

Putting a logic die beneath the DRAM increases the efficiency with which data can be routed to the processor, he said. He compared it to "building a high-speed subway system" beneath the memory.

Knights Ferry

Beyond changes to chip power and memory technologies, Intel is mounting an aggressive push into heterogeneous processors via its Knights Ferry many-integrated core (MIC) processor. The MIC architecture allows for many tens of cores — Knights Ferry has 32 and its successor, Knights Corner, is expected to have around 60 — to work on simple sums for large, parallel applications.

Rattner gave an update on what Intel's partners have been making of Knights Ferry.

He said that Cern, Europe's premier research centre for high-energy particle physics, had been using Knights Ferry MICs to process data generated by the Large Hadron Collider. He demonstrated the difference in speed between a non-MIC computer and a MIC computer at processing data. The MIC one did the computations around five times faster than the non-MIC.

"We can put very advanced and dense workloads on the architecture," a Cern spokesman said on Thursday.

One problem Intel has been dealing with, Rattner said, is the perception that programming applications for heterogeneous processors, such as Knights Ferry, is difficult. "The way it's been portrayed you'd think you'd have to be some kind of freak to code these machines," he said.

Intel already faces competition in the many-integrated core processor space from chip start-up Tilera, which introduced a 100-core processor in June.

Rattner demonstrated a programming framework — Parallel Extensions for Javascript, codenamed River Trail — which lets web applications make use of multi-core processors to speed applications by executing code in parallel.

"River Trail brings the processing power of Intel's multi-core CPUs and their vector extensions to web applications," Stephan Herhut, a research scientist for Intel Labs, wrote in a blog on Thursday. "With River Trail it will finally be possible to stay in the browser even for more compute-intensive applications like photo editing."

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Topics: Innovation


Jack Clark has spent the past three years writing about the technical and economic principles that are driving the shift to cloud computing. He's visited data centers on two continents, quizzed senior engineers from Google, Intel and Facebook on the technologies they work on and read more technical papers than you care to name on topics f... Full Bio

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